Trade acts to address harassment concerns

Trade acts to address harassment concerns

Industry bodies are holding urgent discussions on tackling the issue of sexual harassment in the trade, following publication of the findings of The Bookseller’s survey on the issue last week. Just over half of the 388 respondents said they had experienced harassment, rising to 54% of women, a result described as “deeply concerning” by trade figures. Of the women who said they had been harassed, 70% did not report the incident.

Lis Tribe, president of the Publishing Association (PA), said she was “shocked” to read the findings and that the industry as a whole needed to promote a culture of openness and safety. “We need to act as an industry, both to ensure that those who suffer unwanted attention feel able to speak out and to ensure that a culture that allows such incidents to happen in the first place does not prevail,” Tribe said. “The focus on this issue through publication of the survey and its damning comments about unacceptable behaviour, is a step forward in itself.”

The PA is to look into the issue via its newly formed HR Group, set up following the launch of its Inclusivity Action Plan in September. PA c.e.o. Stephen Lotinga said that any instance of harassment was “completely unacceptable”, commenting: “It is difficult to know how big a problem this is from a single survey but we can’t afford to be complacent and more work is needed to make sure this isn’t reflective of wider working practices.”

The PA will also meet with the Society of Authors (SoA) and the Association of Authors’ Agents (AAA) to discuss drawing up wider book industry guidelines. SoA chief executive Nicola Solomon told The Bookseller she had written to the PA and AAA immediately after publication of the survey and hoped to start a dialogue with other industry organisations in the coming days.

An open door

Authors were among those in the industry that had experienced higher levels of harassment, according to the survey, with 61% saying they had experienced mistreatment. But authors were also among those said to have been involved in harassing others. “Clearly it is abhorrent for anyone in a position of power— whether an author, publisher, agent or whoever—to use their position to compromise those around them, on any level. We need a more open and public dialogue,” Solomon said. “Obviously [SoA] members work
in a wide range of fields, so we’ll also contact organisations in other industries and consider what steps might be taken in the less corporate arenas where authors work, for instance festivals and performances.”

Sixty-one per cent of bookseller respondents said they had experienced harassment, and the Booksellers Association c.e.o. Tim Godfray described this as “very concerning”, and confirmed the BA would discuss the findings in depth at its council meeting later this month.

Meanwhile Gordon Wise, president of the AAA, said that the body believes sexual harassment is “unacceptable within any industry”. It was also essential that anyone suffering such abuse should be able to seek redress and protection, Wise added. Speaking in a personal capacity, he added that the news narrative about harassment in recent weeks had been “both horrific and a relief—horrific because of the confirmation that predatory behavior is endemic in the media (and, of course, beyond) and the sheer range of incidents, spanning serious assault to the kind of ‘casual’ behaviour that some have continued to see as ‘harmless’. But the sense of relief comes from it being acknowledged that there is something that must be addressed, and to reinforce a collective consciousness that supports zero tolerance.”

The guidelines

Meanwhile, publishers have reported feeling “deeply concerned” about the results of the survey and have been prompted to reiterate current HR practice and guidelines to employees.

Sharon Parker, group c.o.o. of Bonnier Publishing, said: “We have a zero tolerance policy towards sexual harassment and are committed to providing a working environment where colleagues are treated with dignity and respect. If a colleague has experienced any form of inappropriate behaviour or harassment, we encourage them to speak to our HR Team or a designated member of our Group Executive Team who can provide confidential advice in addressing the issue.”

Parker added that following the report, the company’s group c.e.o. Richard Johnson verbally reiterated to senior management that sexual harassment is a “serious disciplinary offence” and told them they “have a responsibility to empower and enable any colleague they believe may be affected, so they feel confident enough to report it”.

A Hachette spokesperson said the survey had prompted the company to remind employees of the its zero tolerance of harassment or bullying, and to reiterate that “no one should feel that harassment or predatory behaviour is in any way an acceptable part of their job or just ‘part of the industry’". The spokesperson added: “Furthermore, [it was also reiterated] that calling this behaviour out where [staff] see it would never negatively impact on [them] or on their career.”

Hachette’s Employee Handbook has “clear and helpful” guidelines, backed by informal guidance from managers and senior colleagues, the spokesperson said. “We reiterate— at inductions, appraisals and staff briefings—that we hold ourselves up to the very highest standards and that every single person at Hachette should feel they can do their job without fear of harassment or intimidation of any kind.”

John Fallon, chief executive of Pearson, said that the company offered employee assistance programmes that staff and their families could use for advice or support in their work or personal life, as well as a confidential ethics hotline for employees to report concerns, anonymously, if they wished. “At Pearson, we care deeply about our values of being brave, imaginative, decent and accountable. These values shape our behaviour and we do not tolerate harassment in any shape or form”, said Fallon. “We have a Code of Conduct that we expect employees to uphold, which outlines how we work to our mission and values, ethically and responsibly. Anyone raising a concern can do so without fear of consequence.”

Penguin Random House highlighted the resources available to employees for reporting misconduct or requesting advice, ranging from an employee’s line manager or HR adviser, through to an ethics and compliance phone line and postbox, and a confidential and encrypted email inbox. The publisher also provides the option for employees to contact an external ombudsman for a neutral and independent channel for confidential guidance.

“The Penguin Random House Code of Conduct serves as a common guideline for all employees’ daily decisions and actions: outlining binding minimum standards for responsible behaviour towards business partners and the public, as well as for our behaviour within the company,” HR director Val Garside said.

Out of office

Many respondents to The Bookseller’s survey reported feeling vulnerable when alone on work trips or other situations when they were away from the office. Kate Gibb, chief operating officer of Canongate, highlighted the company’s “lone worker policy”, which means everyone is aware when staff are working alone with authors or external clients, which she emphasised was “particularly important because that is often when staff are in the most vulnerable positions”.

Rina Gulrajani, head of HR at Pan Macmillan, said all employee contracts had “clearly stated” expectations regarding behaviour and that the company had an “open door” for anyone to speak to a member of the HR team in confidence if they had concerns.

A spokesperson for HarperCollins said: “We remain committed to maintaining a creative, dynamic and safe work environment, free of intimidation and discrimination. We strongly encourage all of our employees to speak up if they observe any form of harassment. Our policy protects employees who report misconduct from retaliation.” 

Foyles c.e.o. Paul Currie wrote to all staff this week saying: “At Foyles we pride ourselves that we do not discriminate and we celebrate diversity . . . We do not work in a hierarchical and corporate way and we all know each other. So much so I hope you all feel comfortable in communicating your views in a transparent and constructive way, if exposed to inappropriate attention or actions.” He reminded staff of the 24-hour support service hosted by the independent Retail Trust, which Foyles has subscribed to for many years.

Meanwhile, at Waterstones, the company has guiding principles in place about how the company expects each employee to behave, and also policies in place to address any issues, a spokesperson said. The retailer has a grievance policy that aims to ensure that the appropriate channels through which employees can raise concerns are available. It also has a whistleblowing policy in place to ensure that individuals can raise any concerns that they may have about the conduct of others in the business or the way in which the business is run. An employee who makes a qualifying disclosure has the right not to be dismissed, subjected to any other detriment, or victimised because they have made a disclosure, the retailer confirmed.